If you’re a conscious beauty lover, you’ve probably caught yourself wondering if what you’re using on your skin is really all that good for you. As you should! The beauty and cosmetics industry is notoriously under-regulated in the U.S., often leaving it up to brands to decide how they label and sell their products. In today’s market, the most troublesome trend is “green-washing”—a term used to describe products that claim to be natural and safe but really use troublesome and toxic ingredients. The key to feeling good about your skincare routine is research. I encourage my clients to look deeply at ingredients and question their products. It’s part of the reason I started my own line: to ensure that I was using products on my clients that I trusted. Not sure where to start? Here are four ingredient myths you shouldn’t believe.
Chemical Means Toxic
Companies guilty of green-washing often throw around the word “chemical” to try to scare consumers and convince them that anything that is a chemical is toxic. It’s a bunch of baloney! Chemical or synthetic ingredients as a whole are not any more toxic than natural ingredients. Many synthetic ingredients are developed in a lab to bio-mimic naturally occurring substances. Take lactic acid as an example. Your body doesn’t know the difference between lactic acid derived from sugar cane and lactic acid created in a lab—it’s the same molecule! Many synthetic ingredients are perfectly safe and no more toxic than natural ingredients. However, some products do contain toxins, both natural and synthetic. Watch out for these ingredients in particular and don’t fall for the fear-mongering.
Organic Means 100% Organic
Unfortunately, “organic” is another tricky term. The FDA doesn’t have any definition for what organic means when it’s slapped on a beauty product. They leave it to the USDA—the government organization that monitors the use of the term in food. Organic raw ingredients in cosmetics are plant-sourced and grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, irradiation, or pesticides. According to USDA standards, a product listed as “organic” must contain at least 95% organic ingredients and can use the USDA organic seal. A product that simply claims “Made with organic ingredients” must contain at least 70% organic ingredients—meaning the other 30% can be totally non-organic—but cannot use the seal.
Hypoallergenic is Better for Sensitive Skin
If you’re a sensitive skin sufferer, you know the importance of doing some research before you try out a new skincare product. Beauty marketers have taught us to look for hypoallergenic—an oft-used term that’s supposed to indicate that a product won’t cause allergic reactions. Unfortunately, there’s no regulation or definition of the term in the industry, meaning you may buy a product labeled ‘hypoallergenic’ that’s loaded with known irritants like fragrance and sulfates. Your best bet is to familiarize yourself with common skin irritants and read the ingredient label thoroughly. And remember to always conduct a patch test before adding a product to your routine.
Preservative-Free Is the Way to Avoid Toxins
It’s true that many commonly used skincare preservatives are not so good for you—most notably, parabens. However, preservative-free is a misleading and dangerous claim. Because many products are water-based, they are vulnerable to bacterial growth. Without preservatives, everything from your mascara to your face cream would likely be crawling with potentially dangerous bacteria. Watch out for parabens and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives like quaternium-15 and imidazolidinyl urea. Instead, look for safe preservatives like glycerin, ethylhexylglycerin, potassium sorbate, and sodium benzoate.
Do you have questions about labeling and ingredients? Ask me in the comments!